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I was about to call it a night, then I got an email from Buzz Patterson:
Hello all,The rest is below, including contact info.
This past Friday night I was privileged to visit Fran O'Brien's steakhouse in the Capitol Hilton, Washington, DC. Every Friday night, Hal Koster, the restaurant manager and Vietnam Vet, invites our wounded soldiers convalescing at nearby Walter Reed Army Center to a free steak dinner and drinks. It was supposedly a "slow" night for our heroes as many were on a ski trip in Colorado. But I walked into an absolutely packed room of wounded soldiers and their families enjoying a minor but well-deserved recognition for their service to our country.
I've also discovered since then that the Hilton Corporation will not be renewing the lease. Apparently, there are too many "liability issues" in accommodating American heroes in wheelchairs. In fact , the lease (and therefore the dinners) will expire in a few short weeks. If America had responded as we would in the past, this would be inconsequential really. Obviously we have not and it is a tragic commentary on today's PC-ness.
Please read the attached e-mail with more of the details.
Lieutenant Colonel, USAF (Retired)
MAYDAY! MAYDAY!! MAYDAY!!!
Flight, we need your help!
This is long but you need to read it all.
I'm Jim McDaniel, webmaster for the 174th Assault Helicopter Company's web site. I refer you to one of our web pages that I put together back in 2004. It is about Hal Koster, one of our 174th crew chiefs from Vietnam. Hal crewed the UH-1C SHARK gunships that I flew 1967-68. Hal and I flew together. Please see the page about his restaurant and his support of our veterans at http://www.174ahc.org/koster-iraq.htm.
Now, having read the page, Hal has continued to host our veteran amputees every Friday night. I have been to several of the dinners, and it is absolutely WONDERFUL what Hal has been doing at significant effort and personal expense (every dollar he spends on our veterans could be money he puts in his pocket). You really have to be one of these dinners to fully appreciate what this means to these soldiers.
Well I received this message (below) from Jack Cunningham, and I couldn't believe it. I was last in Hal's on St. Patrick's Day, and Hal didn't mention his difficulties to me then. I just called Hal and he confirmed for me this report is TRUE. Hilton has terminated his lease and the restaurant has been ordered closed on April 31 (just over TWO WEEKS from now). Apparently Hal's support of our wounded veterans is playing a MAJOR part in Hilton's decision to shut him down. Part of it is that Hilton has refused to put in wheelchair access to the restaurant and their concern over liability if one of the amputees should be injured in the restaurant.
I can't believe it! Just how callous can this company be?
It Hilton does this, I will NEVER set foot in a Hilton Hotel again. And I am going to tell them that. If you agree, it is IMPERATIVE you let Hilton know immediately of your feelings. In two weeks (April 31, 2006) it'll be too late. Below are names, e-mail addresses, and website addresses for Hilton.
Hal has NOT asked for any support on this from me or any of us, but he absolutely needs our support.
Call or write to Hilton NOW. Let them know how you feel.
Thank you, and please feel free to forward this to any people or organizations you believe could help.
174th AHC Webmaster
174th AHC Dolphin pilot 1967
174th AHC Shark pilot 1968
116th AHC Hornet pilot 1971
============ Jack Cunningham's note ===============
Fran O'Brien's Restaurant in Washington, DC should be given a special award for true American Patriotism, instead the restaurant is being closed by the Hilton Hotels. Please read the email and send the Hilton Family your comments...
*PLEASE PASS THIS INFORMATION FAR AND WIDE...*
----- Original Message -----
Don't know if you're familiar with Fran O'Brien's Restaurant in Washington, which has invited wounded troops from Walter Reed and Bethesda to free Friday night dinners for nearly three years. The dinners are the highlight of the lives of these troops, both for the evening out and for the camaraderie they find there. One of the owners of the restaurant, Hal Koster, is a Vietnam vet who is determined to brighten the lives of these kids.
Now, the restaurant is about to lose its lease, apparently because Hilton Hotels is worried about their liability, or some such concern. (The restaurant is in the basement of the Capitol Hilton.)
There is an effort underway to change the company's mind on this, and I thought your group might be interested in this battle. Below is a copy of my story on the dinners at Fran's, as well as the email from the folks who are fighting to save the restaurant. I plan to do a story next week on the battle.
Here's my story:
From Capitol Hill Blue
*America at War
Heaven for Wounded Vets
*By LISA HOFFMAN
Nov 4, 2005, 07:41
There are 20 steps from the street to the steak house, which might seem no small matter for young veterans who have lost their legs to war. But the stairs that lead down to Fran O'Brien's Stadium Steak House are not just another obstacle to the hundreds of GIs severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan who have labored up and down them over the past two years.
Instead, for those whose future plans exploded the moment they were maimed, the steps _ and the landmark restaurant they lead to _ are a welcome-mat back to normal life.
"My first dinner was the first time I felt like I was home," is the way Sgt. Steve Clark, who lost his arm to Iraq combat, describes the experience.
Virtually every Friday evening since 2003, the upscale restaurant three blocks from the White House has opened its doors to the young vets who are patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
In a restaurant where a T-bone goes for $30 a pop, each recuperating vet gets a full-course feast, plus whatever libations they choose, for free. While a thick steak is ambrosia to those who have lived on institutional food for months, it is the atmosphere as much as the food that feeds the 50 or so troops and family members who partake each week.
Fran's is a haven for those young men, in the prime of life, who are self-conscious about their missing limbs, disfigured faces and other battle scars. Here, in a private banquet room, the wounded gather with their bandages, casts, crutches and still-clumsy prosthetics.
There they find camaraderie, mutual support and, commonly, a lot of laughs. It's a night out like they enjoyed before they went to war. No one stares at them and no one will let them sink into self pity, said Staff Sgt. Joshua Olson, now 26, who lost his right leg up to the hip two years ago when an enemy rocket hit his truck in Tal Afar, Iraq. "You have to decide if you're going to lay in bed or get up and live," said Olson, who remains in the Army, where he's on the service's competitive shooting team. His goal now? The Summer Olympics. Olson says going to Fran's is a therapeutic exercise in resuming a normal life. Boarding the bus that takes the vets to the restaurant, negotiating the stairs and a crowded restaurant, using a regular restroom, and, for some, eating one-handed or with prosthetics _ all are part of the rehabilitation process, according to doctors and others who help guide these troops back to the real world.
And for those whose spirits are dulled by depression and pain, or the monotony of months of slow recovery, Steak Night is often the only thing they have to look forward to each week. Hal Koster, a co-owner of Fran's, says one patient with a traumatic brain injury would leave his Walter Reed room voluntarily only to go to the restaurant. Over time, Koster said, the vet came back to life.
A bear-like, big-hearted man who did three tours in Vietnam on a helicopter gunship, Koster, 59, wants no publicity for his efforts and shrugs off questions of how much it has cost him and co-owner Marty O'Brien, son of the famous Washington Redskin who opened the restaurant. But extrapolating from the menu, the bill for each Steak Night can be close to $3,000.
The two absorbed the full cost for the first several months, but now it is covered at least in part by donations drummed up by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Help Our Heroes Foundation, the American Legion and other veterans service organizations. The Disabled American Veterans provides the bus.
Koster credits fellow Vietnam vet and longtime Fran's patron Jim Mayer with conceiving the dinners. A double-amputee himself, Mayer is a "peer counselor" at Walter Reed, where he cajoles, teases and comforts those newly limbless who think life is over. A natural comedian, Mayer's been known to skip down the hospital halls on his prosthetic legs to make his point that it isn't.
Both Mayer and Koster said their purpose is a simple one: to ensure that these kids are treated better than they were when they came home from Vietnam. Ask any of the dozens of vet alums who gathered recently at Fran's for a two-year anniversary celebration and they'll tell you, emphatically, that it has been a godsend.
"It's the greatest thing. It lets you be normal," said Cpl. Bobby Isaacs, 24, who lost one entire leg and the other one below the knee after an ambush in Mosul, Iraq. After 39 surgeries, he's now an outpatient in North Carolina, but said he wouldn't have missed the reunion at Fran's for the world. With him he brought his fiancée, a prosthetics technician he met during his rehabilitation.
Attending as well were several Iraqi-Americans who came to thank the troops for their sacrifices. So did Debra Burlingame, sister of the pilot of the jetliner crashed by hijackers into the Pentagon on Sept. 11. With her was John Vigiano, a retired New York City firefighter whose two sons, one a firefighter and the other a police officer, died at the World Trade Center.
In return, the GIs thanked everyone who helped them during recuperation. Staff Sgt. Chris Bain, a father of three whose arms were left useless after a mortar attack, said he had particular appreciation for John Sommer, executive director of the American Legion and a Vietnam vet. Sommer and his wife had "adopted" Bain and other wounded vets, and brought them to his suburban Washington home for afternoons of brats, beer and football.
Former deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz drew the biggest applause and cheers from the troops that night. Now head of the World Bank, Wolfowitz showed up at Fran's Friday after Friday during his term, often spending three hours so he could talk to each vet individually and helping to cut through Pentagon and VA bureaucratic bogs the troops sometimes found themselves in.
Though Wolfowitz is reviled by those against the Iraq war for his role in precipitating it, he is a hero to these troops who _ to a man or woman _ not only continue to support the U.S. mission but say they would sign up to fight all over again if they could.
"In a heartbeat," Sgt. Olson said.
/(Contact Lisa Hoffman at HoffmanL(at)shns.com)/
© Copyright 2005 Capitol Hill Blue
Marty and Hal need our help. For over six months they have been asking the Hilton Management for the terms for renewal of their lease. For over 5 months they were told not to worry they would have the renewal lease in a few weeks. About a month ago the Hilton folks stopped responding to their emails and voice messages for a status report and last week Hal and Marty received a one page eviction notice. No explanation was given. We suspect that at least part of the reason is the Friday night dinner Hal and Marty have been hosting for the last two and a half years. It may be that the Hilton folks are concerned about the increased liability of having so many severely injured and disabled soldiers in their basement each Friday (several have taken falls on the steep stairs at the entrance to Fran's (but no law suits or problems have ensued). It may be that there is very limited and problematic wheelchair access to the restaurant (although no ADA complaints have been filed). The truth is that we don't know for sure but what we do know is that this is unfair. Unless we can change the minds of the folks at the Hilton Hotel Fran's will be out of business on May 1st and we will not have any place to hold our Friday night dinner for the injured soldiers and marines of Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospitals. If you are so inclined I would like to ask you to call and/or email the following two officials at the Hilton and voice your support for Hal and Marty and express your concern for the reasoning behind this seemingly arbitrary decision. Please call them tomorrow or Friday and feel free to share this with anyone else who might be willing to call.
Here are the people to call:
*Dan Boyle (212) 838-1558
Brian Kellaher (202) 393-1000*
Update: The Hilton responds. Poorly.
Well, I sent Mr. Boyle a polite note asking that they reconsider - and work to make the area ADA compliant.
I do hope that anyone else contacting him or Brian Kellaher will maintain a civil tone in doing so.Posted by SGT Jeff at April 12, 2006 11:46 PM
Has any of this been forwarded to the Washington Times, Hannity's Radio show, Rush?
Just wondering. I've forwarded the link to some of my other military contacts as well (both retired and active).
I have also sent a respectful email asking for an explanation. I am a Hilton Gold member who spends 90 plus nights a year in their properties, including stays in Europe.
Keeping a civil tone was somewhat challenging for this old Marine in light of the article.Posted by Patrick Moran at April 13, 2006 03:14 AM
Newbold's story has changed a few times...
I sent a courteous email to Dan Boyle today. I'll be in D.C. next week for the Milbloggers Conference. Maybe some of us can make a point of stopping in at Fran's.Posted by Redhead Infidel at April 13, 2006 01:34 PM
Well, most of you are probably misunderstanding Hilton's position.
I call it "new tenant syndrome".
Hilton wants a continuing stream of new occupants, new decor, and exposure of the hotel itself due to promotional efforts by the new tennants. Some locations are more frequent than others, but this is the usual gig for all Hilton's I have encountered. (I still remember the meetmarket "Dukes" in Lousiville)
The ADA expenses are just another added cost that would likely be negotiated between Hilton and the new tennant. Once publicity has been given to the ADA noncompliance, the new tenant would likely have to be in compliance or not get the building plans approved (think no building permit for the renovation by the new occupant).
If a new lease has not been signed for somebody else, Fran's might negotiate with Hilton for what style and category of dining/drinking establishment they would sign a new lease for.
Thanks for the info, Jhn'1. The strange part of this though, is that they strung Fran's along for five months before finally telling them "no," with no official reason and only three weeks to get out. Fran's had tried to negotiate with them before the lease ran out, but their calls and requests for info were shrugged off ("we're working on it") or ignored. It seems to me that if what you describe was happening, then they'd at least say, "We've decided that a new tenant would give us better exposure and fit our business plan better. But there's been no explanantion.Posted by FbL at April 13, 2006 08:07 PM
Well, if Hilton were honest, most of the start-ups they get would revise their business plan accordingly.
Get their return out faster and so forth.
Pay less to Hilton,
spend less on remodeling,
stop spending money on promotions as they get to the end of the lease (probably the reason for the "working on it" bit), ect.
Hilton is out for Hilton, period.
Being honest with the suckers overspending on a Hilton nonrenewable lease hurts Hilton's bottom line.
I wrote to Dan Boyle and everyone of my state's Senators and Congressmen with an attached forward to friends and family. The tone was civil.
Let's be blunt here. The idea that Hilton wants new decor is in my opinion a joke. The fact that liability issues were raised blows that smoke screen off the chart. For that matter any company that wants to take away such an amazing service to our wounded troops, should be boycotted.
One can not help but think that is this had happened during WWII, the owners of said corp would have been tared and feathered. And rightly so.
Thank you and have a Blessed Easter and God Bless America.Posted by Mica at April 14, 2006 06:39 PM
Hilton MGMT called me to tell me that they were going to continue the dinners after they close Fran's. It seems that they want to take it over for the Positive PR value and nothing to do with the troops.Posted by John Miska at April 17, 2006 06:57 PM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(10) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)